Allied Warships

HMS California (F 55)

Armed Merchant Cruiser

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeArmed Merchant Cruiser
Class[No specific class] 
PennantF 55 
Built byA. Stephen & Sons Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland) 
Ordered 
Laid down 
Launched17 Apr 1923 
Commissioned15 Oct 1939 
End service1 Apr 1942 
History

On 25 August 1939 the passenger ship California of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd, Glasgow was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. Conversion was completed on 15 October 1939.

Displacement: 16792 BRT
Armament: 8x 152mm, 2x 76mm
Speed: 16 knots

Career:
October 39 - August 40: Northern Patrol
November 40 - February 41: Northern and Western Patrol
March 41 - April 41: Western Patrol
May 41 - October 41: North Atlantic Escort Force
November 41 - March 42: South Atlantic Station

On 1 April 1942 returned and used as troopship by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT).

On 11 July 1943 bombed and badly damaged in a convoy by a German Fw200 aircraft of KG40 about 320 nautical miles west of Oporto. The ship caught fire and was abandoned and scuttled the next day by HMS Douglas in 41°15'N, 15°24'W. 72 dead and 695 survivors.

 

Commands listed for HMS California (F 55)

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CommanderFromTo
1Capt. Cuthbert John Pope, RAN7 Nov 1939Oct 1941
2A/Capt. Gerald Seymour Tuck, DSO, RNOct 194123 Dec 1941
3Capt. (retired) Edward Wollaston Kitson, RN23 Dec 1941early 1942

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Notable events involving California include:


18 Nov 1939
The German merchant Borkum (3670 GRT) is captured in the North Atlantic by the British armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN). While en route under her prize crew to Kirkwall in the Orkney's she was torpedoed at 1530 hours on 23 November. She was hit by a torpedo from German U-boat U-33 and was abandoned two days later. The Borkum drifted ashore in Papa Sound and was declared a total loss. On 18 August 1940 she was refloated and towed to Rosyth, where she was broken up.

11 Aug 1940
HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, CBE, RAN) picks up 30 survivors from the British merchant Llanfair that was torpedoed and sunk on 11 August 1940 by German U-boat U-38 200 nautical miles west of Tory Island in position 54°48'N, 13°46'W. One of the survivors died aboard and was buried at sea on 13 August.

5 Nov 1940

Hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84.

Timespan: 5 October to 23 October 1940.

In response to the attack on convoy HX 84 by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer the Admiralty acted quickly.

The battlecruisers HMS Hood (Capt. I.G. Glennie, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral W.J. Whitworth, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Repulse (Capt. W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Naiad (Capt. M.H.A. Kelsey, DSC, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral E.L.S. King, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Phoebe (Capt. G. Grantham, RN), HMS Bonaventure (Capt. H.J. Egerton, RN) and the destroyers HMS Somali (Capt. C. Caslon, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. St. J.A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Mashona (Cdr. W.H. Selby, RN), HMS Matabele (Cdr. R.St.V. Sherbrooke, DSO, RN), HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) and HMS Electra (Lt.Cdr. S.A. Buss, MVO, RN) departed Scapa Flow at 2330/5 to proceed to the last reported position of the German pocket battleship 52°50'N, 32°15'W at 2003/5.

At 1050/6 the force split up; HMS Hood, HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe, HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi proceeded to patrol off the Bay of Biscay to cover the approaches to Brest and Lorient.

HMS Repulse, HMS Bonaventure, HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Electra towards the Admiral Scheer's last known position.

At 0700/6 the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. G.J.A. Miles, RN, flying the flag of Admiral of the Fleet C.M. Forbes, GCB, DSO, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. F.H.G. Dalrymple-Hamilton, RN), light cruiser HMS Southampton (Capt. B.C.B. Brooke, RN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO, RN), HMS Maori (Cdr. H.T. Armstrong, RN), HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. F.C. Brodrick, RN), HMS Douglas (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Crossley, RN), HMS Keppel (Lt. R.J. Hanson, RN) and HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. D.J.B. Jewitt, RN) departed Scapa Flow to cover the patrols in the Iceland-Faroes Channel.

Shortly before midnight during the night of 6/7 November HMS Rodney was detached to escort to escort convoy HX 83 and once this convoy was safe, HX 85 from Halifax.

Three armed merchant cruisers, which were on patrol were recalled to port on the 8th. These were HMS Chitral (Capt.(Retd.) G. Hamilton, RN), which was to the northwest of Iceland and HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and HMS Worcestershire (A/Capt. J. Creswell, RN), which were to the south of Iceland. The light cruiser HMS Southampton was ordered to take over the place of HMS Chitral. She split off from HMS Nelson at 1600/8. HMS Worcestershire joined HMS Nelson and her escorting destroyers around 1500/9.

There were also the destroyers HMS Churchill (Cdr.(Retd.) G.R. Cousins, RN), HMS Lewes (Lt.Cdr. J.N.K. Knight, RN), HMS Lincoln (Cdr. A.M. Sheffield, RN) and HMS Ludlow (Cdr. G.B. Sayer, RN). They were en-route to the U.K. and had departed Halifax on 31 October and refuelled at St. Johns on 3 November. After receiving distress signals from ships in convoy HX 84 they rushed to the reported location. The only thing they found was an empty lifeboat. They then continued their Atlantic crossing and arrived at Londonderry on 9 November.

The destroyer HMS Stanley (A/Lt.Cdr. R.B. Stannard, VC, RNR) had departed Halifax on 1 November and St. Johns on 5 November. Now she and the Canadian destroyer HMCS St.Francis (Lt.Cdr. H.F. Pullen, RCN) escorted convoy HX 85, which had been recalled, back to Nova Scotia.

On 8 November, after machinery defects had been repaired, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia (Capt. R.R. Stewart, RN) departed the Clyde to protect convoys.

The battlecruiser HMS Renown (Capt C.E.B. Simeon, RN) and the destroyers HMS Encounter (Lt.Cdr. E.V.St J. Morgan, RN), HMS Forester (Lt.Cdr. E.B. Tancock, RN) and HMS Gallant (Lt.Cdr. C.P.F. Brown, RN) departed Gibraltar at 0500/6 to provide cover for convoys HG 46 and SL 53.

At 1225/6, off Cape St Vincent, the submarine HMS Utmost (Lt. J.H. Eaden, DSC, RN) was identified as enemy by HMS Encounter which then rammed the submarine which was en-route to Gibraltar. HMS Encounter was escorted to Gibraltar by HMS Forester. They arrived at 0800/7.

On 11 November, HMAS Australia relieved Renown from covering convoy HG 46 and Renown arrived back at Gibraltar on the 12th.

Aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Despatch (Capt. C.E. Douglas-Pennant, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Verity (Cdr. R.H. Mills, RN), HMS Vesper (Lt.Cdr. W.F.E. Hussey, DSC, RN) and HMS Windsor (Lt.Cdr. G.P. Huddart, RN) departed the Clyde on 7 November for Gibraltar and were also ordered to keep a look out for the German pocket battleship. The destroyers were later detached; HMS Windsor around 0100/9 and HMS Verity and HMS Vesper around 0600/9. HMS Despatch was detached at 1000/13 and proceeded to Gibraltar where she arrived at the next day. Shortly before HMS Despatch was detached the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. E.T. Cooper, RN) and HMS Wrestler (Lt. E.L. Jones, DSC, RN) had joined followed later in the day by HMS Vidette (Lt. E.N. Walmsley, RN). HMS Argus, HMS Vidette, HMS Wishart and HMS Wrestler arrived at Gibraltar very late on the 14th.

Battlecruiser HMS Repulse escorted by the destroyers HMS Matabele and HMS Electra arrived at Scapa Flow for refuelling around 1100/11.

Light cruiser HMS Bonaventure and destroyer HMS Mashona arrived at Scapa Flow around 1130/11 for refuelling.

Battlecruiser HMS Hood, light cruisers HMS Naiad, HMS Phoebe and the destroyers HMS Somali, HMS Eskimo and HMS Punjabi returned to Scapa Flow around 1400/11 for refuelling. HMS Eskimo had suffered weather damage to her asdic dome and had some forecastle deck plates buckled. She was docked for repairs in the floating drydock at Scapa Flow from 13 to 16 November.

After fuelling HMS Bonaventure departed Scapa Flow at 2300/11 to continue to search for survivors from convoy HX 84. Armed merchant cruiser HMS Chitral was also back at sea to search for survivors. She had departed from Reykjavik, Iceland around 2330/10.

HMS Bonaventure returned to Scapa Flow on the 19th with weather damage.

The armed merchant cruiser HMS Letitia (A/Capt. E.H. Longsdon, RN) departed the Clyde around 1300/11 for the Northern Patrol.

HMS Repulse, HMS Naiad departed Scapa Flow around 1330/12 for patrol and also to provide cover for ships of the Northern Patrol. They were escorted by the destoyers HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Mashona, HMS Matabele and HMS Punjabi.

HMS Naiad parted company on the 13th to proceed to Jan Mayen Island where a German weather / wireless station in Jameson Bay was to be raided.

HMS Repulse returned to Scapa Flow at 0015/19 being escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. W.G. Davis, RN), HMS Mashona and HMS Matabele. They had provided cover for HMS Naiad during her raid on Jan Mayen Island.

The battleship HMS Nelson arrived at Scapa Flow around 1630/13 escorted by the destryers Maori, HMS Beagle (Lt.Cdr. R.H. Wright, RN), HMS Bulldog (Lt.Cdr. F.J.G. Hewitt, RN) and Keppel.

Battleship HMS Rodney arrived at Scapa Flow around 1500/23rd. She had been joined at dawn the previous day by the destroyers HMS Beagle, HMS Brilliant, HMS Bulldog and HMS Electra. (1)

5 Dec 1940
The German blockade breaker Klaus Schoke (5830 GRT) was intercepted by HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) in the mid-Atlantic near the Azores. Unfortunately before the German ship can be captured it is scuttled by her own crew.

9 Dec 1940
Shortly before noon, the troopship Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) and HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) made rendez-vous with the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN) shortly before noon. Around 1500 hours the armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) also joined. All these ships were to proceed to the U.K. except for HMS Velox which parted company around 1900 hours to return to Gibraltar. (2)

12 Dec 1940
Shortly after noon, the troopship Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN), HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN) were joined by the AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN), HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN) and HMS Bradford (Lt.Cdr. M.T. Collier, RN). (2)

13 Dec 1940
Around 0800 hours, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN) and the destroyers HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN) and HMS Bradford (Lt.Cdr. M.T. Collier, RN) parted company with the troopship Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN),armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN) and HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN) which continued on towards the Clyde. (2)

14 Dec 1940
The troopship Franconia (British, 20175 GRT, built 1923), battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), AA cruiser HMS Cairo (Capt. P.V. McLaughlin, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Cossack (Capt. P.L. Vian, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Sikh (Cdr. G.H. Stokes, RN), HMS Eclipse (Lt.Cdr. I.T. Clark, RN), HMCS St. Laurent (Lt. H.S. Rayner, RCN) and HMCS Skeena (Lt.Cdr. J.C. Hibbard, RCN) arrived in the Clyde. (2)

10 Jan 1941
HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) departed Greenock. They escorted the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and troopship Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929) in the Clyde area until late afternoon when they separated and proceeded to sea. They were to rendez-vous with several warships that were approaching the U.K. from the west and south.

Rendez-vous was effected around 0800 / 0900 hours on the 12th when the battleship HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Kelly, HMS Kelvin, HMS Kipling all arrived in approximate position 60°50'N, 09°50'W.

HMS Kenya, which had been escorting HMS Argus did not join. She set course for Plymouth where she arrived on the 14th.

HMS Punjabi arrived at Scapa Flow on 14 January 1941. It seems likely she had already been detached before the rendez-vous was effected.

On the 14th HMS Argus, HMS California escorted by HMS Kelvin split off for the Clyde where they arrived later the same day. HMS Kelvin was then ordered to proceed to the Humber to refit for which she departed the next day.

HMS Revenge set course for Portsmouth escorted by HMS Kelly, HMS Kipling.

At 1615/15 HMS Revenge, HMS Kelly and HMS Kipling were joined by HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) which had departed Plymouth at 1030/15.

HMS Revenge and her three escorting destroyers arrived at Portsmouth on the 16th.

30 Mar 1941
HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) picks up 39 survivors from the British merchant Coultarn. that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-69 southwest of Iceland in position 60°18'N, 29°28'W.

Sources

  1. ADM 199/379
  2. ADM 53/113049

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.


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